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Religion, Study of

[ courses | faculty ]

Arts and Humanities Building, Second Floor
North Torrey Pines Living
and Learning Neighborhood

All courses, faculty listings, and curricular and degree requirements described herein are subject to change or deletion without notice.

Program Description

As an academic field, the study of religion focuses on a set of problems, questions, and frames for intellectual attention about how human beings inhabit their social and cultural worlds in relation to what they conceive as more-than-human powers. World religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism, provide a rich set of data through which to explore such issues. But religion is bigger than that, for as an emergent phenomenon, religion appertains to the fullness of the human world. Religion emerges from literature, history, social organization, imagination, emotions, culture, and even the physical body itself.

For this reason, the hallmark of UC San Diego’s Program for the Study of Religion is its interdisciplinary and interdepartmental structure. There is no discipline in the humanities or social sciences that does not provide its own rigorous and edifying window onto the phenomena of religion. Faculty from anthropology, communication, ethnic studies, history, Jewish studies, literature, philosophy, political science, sociology, and visual arts provide students with the opportunity to examine religious artifacts, practices, performances, texts, institutions, and communities within a particular cultural and historical context and in the context of comparable manifestations within the general history of religions.

Because academic approaches to religion are so diverse, the program is committed to giving its students the widest practicable latitude to develop their own program of learning within the field. A concentration in the Study of Religion aims at helping students to gather the information, the analytic tools, as well as the critical acumen needed to think clearly and deeply about the place of religion in their own lives and the lives of their fellow human beings. Additionally, the program seeks to develop students’ appreciation of the difficulties and possibilities inherent in undertaking a critical, disciplined, cross-cultural study of religion; this includes making sure that students recognize the difference between confessional and scholarly discourses on religion. The program judges its success by whether its students gain a contextual understanding of the religious phenomena they investigate, and whether they are able to usefully interrogate their source materials in order to develop analytical skills in the practice of interpretation, oral discussion, and writing.

Since the program endorses an interdisciplinary and comparative approach to the study of religion, lower-division preparation should be wide and varied. Lower-division courses in which religion figures prominently (e.g., Introduction to Religion, Comparative World Religions, The Making of the Modern World, or the Revelle College Humanities Program), as well as courses that focus on textual and contextual analysis and employ the analytical tools and conceptual categories of the human sciences, would all be useful in preparing the student for a major in the Study of Religion. The program strongly encourages foreign language study. The ability to read the languages of original sources and of modern scholarship is highly recommended, especially for students planning to attend graduate school in religion.


The major in the Study of Religion consists of twelve upper-division courses, achieving a balance between courses that focus on a single religious tradition or issue and those that explore various traditions and methodologies. Requirements for the major are as follows:

  1. RELI 101 Requirement
    All majors must take RELI 101: Tools and Methods in the Study of Religion

  2. Seminar Requirement
    One course must be a seminar, normally RELI 189. To use a different seminar, you must petition the program’s director. You may use your seminar to satisfy a distribution requirement and/or the tradition requirement.

  3. Distribution Requirement
    Four courses must satisfy distribution requirements. All majors must take at least two upper-division courses within the School of Arts and Humanities, as well as two upper-division courses within the School of Social Sciences. Courses are to be selected from the approved course list in consultation with your faculty adviser. Neither RELI 101 nor lower-division courses can be used to satisfy this requirement.

  4. Electives
    Six elective courses from the approved course list to be selected in consultation with your faculty adviser. You may include two lower-division courses among your electives. However, only lower-division courses with the RELI rubric are permitted. There are no exceptions to this rule. Students should see the program coordinator for further details. Please note that you must complete a total of twelve upper-division courses for the major. If you elect to apply lower-division RELI courses to the electives requirement, you will need to take additional upper-division electives to satisfy the twelve upper-division course requirement.

  5. Tradition Requirement
    At least two of your twelve courses must focus on the same religious tradition. Courses that satisfy this requirement take a single religious tradition as their primary object of investigation and are marked as such on the approved course list.

Double Major

Students may choose to pursue the Study of Religion as their second major. In such cases, it may be possible for up to two courses to overlap with the other major. Students should consult the program coordinator for further information.

Honors in the Study of Religion

The program for the Study of Religion offers an Honors Program for students who demonstrate excellence in the major. The minimum eligibility requirements for the Honors Program are stated below. In most cases students are completing their last two quarters (winter and spring) when they enroll in the Honors Program.

Minimum Eligibility Requirements
  • GPA of 3.3 overall and a 3.5 in the major to enter or remain in the Honors Program
  • RELI 101 completed prior to, or concurrently with, the honors project
  • Junior or senior standing (completion of at least ninety units)
  • Eight units of RELI 196AH-BH taken over two quarters (typically winter and spring)
  • Research paper (at least twenty pages; most students write between thirty and fifty pages)

Students interested in the Honors Program should consult with the program coordinator for a detailed list of requirements and an application. Participation in the Honors Program is contingent upon the prior approval of the honors thesis research topic by the director. Honors proposals are due at the program office by the tenth week of the quarter (usually fall quarter of the senior year) prior to being enrolled. Final approval must take place before the first day of the quarter in which the student plans to enroll in RELI 196AH-BH.

The honors student’s faculty director must certify by the end of the first term that the student is making timely progress toward the completion of his or her project.

The notations Distinction, High Distinction, and Highest Distinction will be determined on the following basis: major GPA, the grade for the research paper, and the grade for the public presentation.


The minor in the Study of Religion consists of seven courses, of which five must be upper division. Requirements for the minor are as follows:

  1. RELI 101 Requirement
    All minors must take RELI 101: Tools and Methods in the Study of Religion.

  2. Distribution Requirement
    Two courses must satisfy distribution requirements. All minors must take at least one upper-division course within the School of Arts and Humanities, as well as one upper-division course within the School of Social Sciences. RELI 101 cannot be used to satisfy distribution requirements.

  3. Electives
    Four elective courses from the approved course list to be selected in consultation with your faculty adviser. Two upper-division electives may overlap between your major and minor. You may include two lower-division courses among your electives. In addition to lower-division RELI courses, some students may apply two lower-division college requirements to the minor (e.g., Revelle students may apply HUM 1 and HUM 2, and ERC students may apply MMW 11 and MMW 12). Students should see the program coordinator for further details.

  4. Tradition Requirement
    At least one of your seven courses must focus on a single religious tradition. Courses that satisfy this requirement take a single religious tradition as their primary object of investigation and are marked as such on the approved course list.

Student Advising

All students are assigned a faculty adviser and are encouraged to meet with their adviser at least once a quarter to develop their course of study. Additional advising information may be obtained from the program coordinator, Arts and Humanities Building, Second Floor, Room 250. Students can submit advising questions via the Virtual Advising Center.

Study Abroad

Study of Religion majors are encouraged to participate in the UC Education Abroad Program (EAP) or UC San Diego’s Opportunities Abroad Program (OAP), while still making progress toward completing their major. Students considering this option should discuss their plans with the departmental faculty adviser before going abroad, and courses taken abroad must be approved by the department. Students may petition to use up to three upper-division courses as electives for the major and up to two toward the minor. For more information on departmental procedures for study abroad see “Undergraduate Program” at EAP is detailed in the Education Abroad Program or visit Financial aid applies to study abroad, and scholarships are available. Contact the Study Abroad UC San Diego office.

Career Opportunities and Preparation for Graduate Study

Among its many aims, the major in the Study of Religion is designed to develop fundamental skills in critical thinking, comparative analysis, research, and written expression. As such, the BA degree is appropriate for careers in education, government, business, and nonprofit agencies. It is also an excellent preparation for graduate study in a variety of fields and disciplines.

Students interested in earning a California teaching credential from UC San Diego should contact the Teacher Education Program for further information.

Students are encouraged to consult the program director for further information about career opportunities and graduate study. Information is also available on the program’s website.

Approved Elective Courses

The following lower- and upper-division courses are offered on a regular basis, although not every course is available every year. Please contact the program coordinator for approved courses in any given quarter or visit the program’s website, Students may petition other courses, including independent study and Education Abroad Program courses when appropriate.

Lower Division

ANTH 1. Introduction to Culture

HUM 1. The Foundations of Western Civilization: Israel and Greece

HUM 2. Rome, Christianity, and the Middle Ages

MMW 11. Prehistory and Ancient Foundations

MMW 12. Classical and Medieval Traditions

PHIL 31. Introduction to Ancient Philosophy

RELI 1. Introduction to Religion

RELI 2. Comparative World Religions

RELI 3. Technoscience and Religion

SOCI 1. Introduction to Sociology

SOCI 2. The Study of Society

Upper Division

Single tradition designations: (B) Buddhism, (C) Christianity, (EA) East Asian, (H) Hinduism, (I) Islam, (J) Judaism, (P) Paganism.

Arts and Humanities

HIEA 126. The Silk Road in Chinese and Japanese History

HIEA 137. Women and Family in Chinese History

HIEU 104. Byzantine Empire

HIEU 105. The Early Christian Church (C)

HIEU 107. Pagan Europe and Its Christian Aftermath (RELI 147) (C)

HIEU 111. Europe in the Middle Ages

HIEU 115. The Pursuit of the Millennium (C)

HIEU 125. Reformation Europe

HIEU 132. Germany from Luther to Bismarck

HIEU 158. Why Hitler? How Auschwitz?

HIEU 159. Three Centuries of Zionism, 1648–1948 (J)

HIEU 163. Special Topics in Medieval History (when topic covers religion)

HINE 102. The Jews in Their Homeland in Antiquity (J)

HINE 103. The Jewish Diaspora in Antiquity (J)

HINE 108. The Middle East Before Islam

HINE 112A. Great Stories from the Hebrew Bible (J)

HINE 113. Ancient Near Eastern Mythology

HINE 114. The History of the Islamic Middle East

HINE 116. The Middle East in the Age of European Empires (1798–1914)

HINE 118. The Middle East in the Twentieth Century

HINE 119. US Mideast Policy Post WWII

HINE 126. Iranian Revolution in Historical Perspective

HINE 130. Introduction to the Old Testament: Historical Books (JUDA 130) (J)

HINE 131. Introduction to the Old Testament: Poetic Books (JUDA 131) (J)

HINE 145. Islam and Science: The History of Science in the Middle East (600–1950)

HINE 162. Anthropology and the Hebrew Bible (J)

HINE 170. Special Topics in Jewish History (J)

HISC 110. Historical Encounters of Science and Religion

HISC 166. The Galileo Affair

HITO 104. Jews and Judaism in the Ancient and Medieval Worlds (J)

HITO 124. Mystical Traditions

Jewish Studies

JWSP 110. Introduction to Judaism (J)

JWSP 130. Introduction to the Old Testament: The Historical Books (HINE 130) (J)

JWSP 131. Introduction to the Old Testament: The Poetic Books (HINE 131) (J)


LTEU 158. Single Author in Russian Literature (when topic covers religion)

LTWL 100. Mythology

LTWL 129. Wisdom: The Literature of Authority

LTWL 135. The Buddhist Imaginary (B)

LTWL 136. Socially Engaged Buddhism (B)

LTWL 138. Critical Religion Studies

LTWL 145. South Asian Religious Literature: Selected Topics (H)

LTWL 157. Iranian Film (I)

LTWL 158A. Topics in the New Testament (C)

LTWL 158B. Topics in Early Christian Texts and Cultures (C)

LTWL 158C. Topics in Other Christianities (C)

LTWL 168. Death and Desire in India (H)

LTWL 169. Yoga, Body, and Transformation (H)


PHIL 104. The Rationalists

PHIL 185. Philosophy of Religion

Study of Religion

RELI 101. Tools and Methods in the Study of Religion

RELI 131. Topics in Religion and Sexuality

RELI 132. Topics in Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy

RELI 134. Topics in American Religion

RELI 141. Public Sphere and Religion

RELI 142. Secularization and Religion

RELI 143. Topics in Performing Religion

RELI 144. Devils and Demons in Christianity (C)

RELI 145. Communication, Technology, and Religion

RELI 146. Topics in the Religions of Antiquity

RELI 147. Pagan Europe and Its Christian Aftermath (C)

RELI 148. Religion and Women’s Activisms

RELI 149. Islam in America (I)

RELI 150. Religion and Cinema

RELI 151. Deep Ecology: Knowing Place

RELI 153. Hispanic American Religions

RELI 154. Asian American Religions

RELI 155. African American Religions

RELI 156. Posthuman Spirituality

RELI 157GS. Religion in Japan (EA)

RELI 158GS. Japanese Literature and Spirituality (EA)

RELI 159GS. Native Religions

RELI 160GS. Religion and Politics

RELI 188. Special Topics in Religion

RELI 189. Seminar in Religion

RELI 196AH-BH. Honors Thesis in Religion

Visual Arts

VIS 117I. Western and Nonwestern Rituals and Ceremonies

VIS 120A. Greek Art

VIS 120B. Roman Art

VIS 120C. Late Antique Art

VIS 121AN. Art and Experience in the Middle Ages

VIS 121B. Church and Mosque: Medieval Art and Architecture between Christianity and Islam

VIS 122AN. Renaissance Art

VIS 122D. Michelangelo

VIS 124BN. Art and the Enlightenment

VIS 126BN. The Art and Civilization of the Ancient Maya

VIS 126I. Southwest American Indian Art

VIS 126K. Oceanic Art

Social Sciences

ANAR 142. The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel

ANAR 143. Biblical Archaeology—Fact or Fiction

ANAR 144. Pharaohs, Mummies, and Pyramids: Introduction to Egyptology

ANAR 153. The Mysterious Maya

ANAR 154. Aztecs and Their Ancestors

ANAR 158. The Inca: Empire of the Andes

ANSC 120. Religion and Culture

ANSC 130. Hinduism (H)

ANSC 136. Traditional Chinese Society

ANSC 137. Chinese Popular Religion (EA)

ANSC 154. Gender and Religion

ANSC 160. Nature, Culture, and Environmentalism


COMM 176. Communication and Religion

Ethnic Studies

ETHN 110. Cultural Worldviews of Indigenous America

ETHN 188. African Americans, Religion, and the City

Political Science

POLI 110A. Citizens and Saints: Political Thought from Plato to Augustine

POLI 110B. Sovereign Subjects in the Modern State: Machiavelli to Rousseau

POLI 121. Government and Politics of the Middle East

POLI 121B. Politics of Israel

POLI 131. Muslim Integration and Exclusion

POLI 136. Religion and Politics


SOCI 100. Classical Sociological Theory

SOCI 157. Religion in Contemporary Society

SOCI 160. Sociology of Culture

SOCI 188E. Community and Social Change in Africa

SOCI 188F. Modern Jewish Societies and Israeli Society

SOCI 188G. Chinese Society